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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Grainger, James, West India Diseases (1764)

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Grainger, James, West India Diseases (1764)

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First published in London of 1764, in “An Essay on the Common west-India Diseases and the Remedies” James Grainger argues that those responsible for the management of slaves “treat them in a more scientific manner than has hitherto been generally practiced,” and outlines this philosophy, dividing the work into four parts. Parts one and two examine methods of choosing and treating new slaves. Part three discusses less common diseases such leprosy, elephantiasis, "the Joint-Evil," yaws, and ulcers, along with their respective cures. The final section outlines general observations regarding some best practices regarding slaves’ food, clothing, housing, and includes a list of medicine that “no plantations ought ever to be without.”



First published in 1764, James Grainger’s (c. 1721 – 1767) essay “An Essay on the Common west-India Diseases; and the remedies which that country itself produces. To which are added, some hints on the management, &c. of Negroes” covers an array of topics, but primarily records the care and treatment of slaves in the Caribbean. Grainger received his M.D from Edinburgh University in 1753 and used his extensive knowledge of medicine to relate his accounts of slave medical treatment in the West Indies after moving to St. Kitts in 1759 (Wright 1802). The text’s intended audience was the managers of slaves on islands, but it was also widely utilized by physicians and surgeons (Wright vi).

Grainger’s Essay argues that those responsible for the management of slaves “treat them in a more scientific manner than has hitherto been generally practiced,” and outlines this philosophy throughout the four parts of the essay. Grainger contends that slaves were treated well, and substantiates those claims by offering observations regarding the slave's healthy diets, clothing, housing, and medical treatments, including remedies that “no plantations ought ever to be without” (iv).

According to Thomas Krise, Grainger’s essay became the standard reference work for West Indian diseases and treatment immediately after its publication. The same Edinburgh publishing house, Mundell & Son, printed the second edition of Grainger’s Essay in 1802, which contains “Practical Notes, And a Linnaean Index” supplemented by William Wright, M.D.F.R.S. Physician to His Majesty’s Forces. Scholars cite Grainger’s Essay as the first Anglophone work in the Caribbean devoted to the diseases of the West-Indies, as well as one of the first works of literature that discusses the “management” of slaves. Grainger’s essay has been cited by numerous scholars studying topics such as epidemiology, the history of plantation management and slave life, historical advocates of slavery, and ecology (see: Dumas 2013; Eugėnio 2009; Kipple 2002; LeTexier 2013; Thomas 2006).



Works Cited

Dumas, Paula. Defending the slave trade and slavery in Britain in the Era of Abolition, 1783-1833, University of Edinburgh, 2013.

Eugênio, Alisson. "Enlightenment, slavery and slaves' health conditions in the New World." Varia Historia vol. 25 no. 41, 2009, pp. 227-244.

Grainger, James and William Wright. An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases: And the Remedies which that Country Itself Produces; to which are Added, Some Hints on the Management, &c. of Negroes. Mundell & Son, and Longman & Rees, 1802.

Kiple, Kenneth F. The Caribbean slave: a biological history. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Le Texier, Thibault. "The first systematized uses of the term ‘management’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries." Journal of Management History vol. 19 no. 2, 2013, pp. 189-224.

Thomas W. Krise (ed.), Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies, 1657-1777, 1999.

Thomas, Steven. "Doctoring Ideology: James Grainger's The Sugar Cane and the Bodies of Empire." Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal vol. 4 no. 1, 2006, pp. 78-111.

Secondary Bibliography

Goodwin, Gordon. “Grainger, James (1721x4–1766).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP, 2004.

David S. Shields, Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics and Commerce in British America, 1690-1750, University of Chicago Press, 1990.



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